I went along to a meeting of peace activists held in Brisbane over the weekend, examining ways forward in the current political and social environment. I suspect promoting peace above conflict has always been a far harder row to hoe, but it’s still something worth struggling for wherever possible.
The urgency of now does tend to make us overemphasise the present situation compared to the past, which now seems inevitable, and the future which seems unknowable. But I do feel there are a few opportunities/threats aligning at the moment which make the current period quite significant.
After seven years of the so-called ‘war on terror’ – more accurately called a war of terror which has engendered far greater instability than what existed prior to it being unleashed – there are some signs of a change in attitude and strategy. This will hopefully be given a push along by an Obama victory this week, but it won’t happen of it’s own accord.
The disastrous and dishonest war in Iraq has tended to mask the failure of the war in Afghanistan. I was amazed to read that, even before the US election is held, there is serious talk at the highest levels of the Bush administration of opening talks with the Taliban. It some ways it is even more amazing how little comment such a monumental u-turn has engendered.
This piece in New Matilda outlines some of the issues and history well:
“Ultimately,” says US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates, “there has to be… reconciliation [with the Taliban] as part of a political outcome to this.”
It is difficult to calculate the internal dynamics within the Bush Administration that have led to this dramatic policy shift.
The US has come a long way since the day, in February 2002, that then-Taliban Foreign Minister Maulvi Wakil Ahmad Mutawakkil approached US officials to initiate a dialogue. Mutawakkil was arrested and spent the next four years at Guantanamo Bay. The world’s superpower may now be rueing the missed opportunity.
A key task of the peace movement is to encourage and justify the approach of dialogue above destruction. If we can get a public and political mindshift which recognises which talking is not a sign of weakness or softness, we may be able to get significant changes in direction happening.
The end of the Bush era, and the discredited delusions which it embodies, does not automatically mean the alternatives paths chosen will be better. One of the big tests will be how we handle international conflicts, and whether we can return some momentum to past pushes for disarmament – both nuclear and other weaponry.
Will the economic and budgetary difficulties of the USA provide a very valid reason for cutting back on runaway military expenditure, or will the need to demonstrate ‘toughness’ and maintain the façade of military might leave this area of the Budget untouched. The untouchable status of the defence budget in Australia seemed to mostly produce a corresponding increase in spending blowouts.